Drug Testing Welfare recipients…Is it right?
There are various arguments for and against the drug testing of welfare recipients. I will start by saying that I personally do not agree with this process. There are many reasons for this, but I will not pin this argument on my personal opinions alone. This piece will look at the arguments and the evidence of why such a measure would prove to be regressive rather than progressive. As a starting point beyond the social, ethical and humanitarian argument it has been argued by many that such a measure is a violation of an individual’s rights as set out in the 4th amendment under the Constitution.
That is alone is a strong argument and a reason that some courts in the United States have not enforced the above measure. I will argue two further cases why I believe this action will only cause greater problems for society and the tax payer. Firstly we need to be logical about this and understand that drug addiction is a disease, introducing this measure merely punishes an individual and subsequently their families for an illness they cannot control. The second reason is that this measure does not in any way take into account the factors that bring about drug use and drug addiction as well as the fact the forcing people into further poverty and marginalization can further exacerbate the problem.
Drug use and addiction is often related to lower socio-economic classes, those suffering from poverty and a range of other issues. Poverty serves to perpetuate a range of personal, familial and societal issues; mental illness, poor educational attainment, poor physical health and well-being, isolation and addiction.
The reality of drug addiction is that often the individual will make the decision to choose the substance they are addicted to before they will use their means to purchase food, water or warm clothes. This is an unfortunate reality and one the more fortunate struggle to understand. It is because of this that some may consider a federal payment as a complete waste of taxpayers’ money; however the alternative is pushing an individual further into poverty, possibly making them homeless and increasing instances of crime such as theft in order to facilitate their addiction. The repercussions of this on society and the economy could be far more costly than the payments issued to support the poor.
Poverty and addiction cannot be addressed as isolated issues; they are in many ways closely linked and together maintain a destructive cycle. States making the decision to punish those who are abusing illicit drugs are only serving to trap individuals and families in a cycle of poverty. There are more progressive ways in which to deal with the problem and ways that will have a more long term positive influence using taxpayers’ money effectively and positively. State funds could be better spent on prevention programs for not just the poor but the entire population, stricter laws could be enforced and better enforcement policies introduced. In addition to this non-financial supports could be given greater priority, such as education and rehabilitative programs. This method would address the issue of drug use and abuse in a broader holistic way, instead of side stepping the issue and merely dealing with the problems on the surface and ignoring influencing factors.
The punishment for failing one of these drug tests is to lose your payment for one year, if the state genuinely cared about its citizens it would not simply take away the payment but look at a ways to tackle the issue; enforcing a policy that creates poverty and not prosperity is surely not conducive to a prosperous America. Programs that get people off drugs and help them overcome addiction can ensure they do contribute to the American economy. This also relates to the sad reality that many become unemployed because of drug and alcohol abuse issues, so you see this “policy” is short sighted and lacks any long term vision for society or the economy.
Further problems with this measure are that it does not detect alcoholism or dependence on prescription drugs- both substances are legal. This further demonises people and causes unfair categorization based on the substance you use. Addiction and abuse should not be okay because you are spending state money on legal drugs that generate revenue, what kind of logic is there in this and what message is being given.
Research has also found that there are no saving to be made; the cost of implementing the legislation, refunding those who test negative for substance abuse and defending the introduction of this policy in court far exceed any potential “savings”. It is more about an attack on those in receipt of welfare and a discrimination and resentment of those who are supported by the state. Studies show that there is a far larger majority of tax payers using drugs than the unemployed, so this is also an irrational notion that serves to stigmatize the poor, creating a them and us dynamic giving the better off the moral high ground.
“Several studies, including a 1996 report from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, have found that there is no significant difference in the rate of illegal-drug use by welfare applicants and other people. Another study found that 70% of illegal-drug users between the age of 18 and 49 are employed full time.”
It is not alone the poor that benefit from government funds and if they key issue is to save money or ensure that it being spent wisely then surely we should be testing recipients of various business grants, subsidies for famers and even those in receipt of a state pension. This will not happen, so again we must ask, why is it that the government feel it is acceptable to degrade those who are less well-off and fuel damaging misconceptions and stereotypes.
Finally the introduction of drug testing welfare recipients is insulting and degrading to the thousands of Americans who worked their whole lives until the economic crash made this impossible, not alone have they lost their income and the sense of purpose but they are now being accused of using drugs because they are unemployed.